At the Western Front Association’s last meeting of the year, Derek Gladding deviated slightly from his advertised talk, to share with his audience a wide-ranging insight to the causes of the First World War.
Each principal protagonist was put in the dock – Serbia, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, France and Britain – to examine their responsibility for causing and starting the war.
While Britain remained ‘in splendid isolation’ and dominated the oceans for most of the 19th century, during which time her early industrialisation underpinned enormous growth in both her wealth and Empire, the rest of Europe underwent great changes driven by nationalism, colonialism and industrialisation.
New nations were created, most notably a Prussian-dominated Germany, also Italy.
After defeat under Napoleon, the French Army thought it had regained its ascendancy in Europe until its humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.
Immediately afterwards the North German Confederation of states proclaimed their union as the German Empire under the Prussian king, Wilhelm I, uniting Germany as a nation-state.
The final Treaty of Frankfurt gave Germany most of Alsace and some parts of Lorraine, which cessation caused of much lingering resentment.
Five years earlier, the Prussians had delivered an equally humiliating defeat upon the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which resulted in a power shift among the German states away from Austrian and towards Prussia and gave impetus towards German statehood to the exclusion of Austria.
Her central geographical position and significant natural resources led to rapid industrialisation of Germany, so that by the end of the century her economy was becoming, or at least threatening to become, dominant in world terms which posed an increasing threat to Britain and her Empire, equally to the French Empire.
Starting from the earliest of times, Derek explored the reasons for war being endemic in civilisation.
He went on to discuss the policies, warnings and prophesies of Otto Von Bismarck (German Chancellor, 1862-1890), and how rivalries and points of friction inevitably led to the build-up of a network of alliances between nation-states.
Having taken his audience through the events of early 20th century – the Boer War, Russo-Japanese War, 1904 Entente Cordiale between Britain and France and the 1912-13 Balkans Wars, Derek concluded with his assessment of variable guilt to be shared amongst all belligerents. None emerged guilt-free.
The WFA’s next formal meeting will be on Monday, January 27, when Alan Fidler will relate progress of the Tynemouth First World War Project.
Other dates for your diary are February 24 (British Politics and the First World War, by Dr Martin Farr) and March 24 (Haig: A Re-appraisal, by Professor John Derry).
WFA meetings take place at 7.15 pm, for 7.30 pm at Alnmouth and District Ex-Servicemen’s Club, Northumberland Street, Alnmouth.
A warm welcome awaits visitors and WFA members new to the branch. The suggested minimum donation is £2, to include a light finger supper.